A tinier Christmas: a more minimalistic approach to gift giving
I just did something really crazy.
I went to the mall to grab an item, a friend had asked me to get for her. During the past years, I have cut down on gifting so much, that I completely forgot what the stores are like right now. With Christmas Eve only a few days away, the tight rows of the stores are packed with merchandise and grim faces.
People are rushing, grabbing, pushing, bumping and spending their way through the shops - and in the background, "Silent night" is playing. What is wrong with this picture?
I'm so happy to be home now. Oh, calm, quiet, peaceful home. Greeted by the lit Christmas tree, my husband and our puppy, I rarely have felt so excited to come home from the city.
My afternoon reminded me of how happy I am with our conscious decision to gift less. N O T G I V E L E S S - J U S T B U Y less. Don't get me wrong, we give each other plenty. Plenty of time to play for example. Plenty of love, too. Also, it's a good time to give plenty of thanks.
A Christian blog writer would now add a segment of the origins and the true meaning of Christmas and why it is important to focus on the love, not the merchandise. I want to add here, that I tend to completely agree. My husband and I live a secular lifestyle. However, we opted to celebrate Christmas relatively traditional. You might disagree with that choice. One might ask, why celebrate a Christian holiday if you don't live a life that includes church. We have asked ourselves that question too, and have decided, that we do it out of nostalgia for one, as it is the way we know; but also, because it is important to us to show Smilla how and why Christians celebrate the season. After all, just because we don't live a religious life, doesn't mean she can't choose that for herself one day. We want to be very open towards everyones believes, and hope to receive the same open-mindedness when it comes to our own (non-)believes. Back to gifting though. By all means, give someone a gift, if you know you can make someone happy; but I beg of you, don't give someone a gift this season, because you feel that this is what's asked of you, or tradition, or expected. When you gift, make good choices! Give something that is useful, or can be used up completely. Give the gift of your time and see a friend, instead of buying a scarf for her the 5th year in a row. Don't buy seven items for your child, because you fear it will feel left out in pre-school if you don't. Stay clear of junk. And whatever you buy, don't buy it if your bank account is empty.
Instead of going on about what I think you should do this season, I will stop now and focus on what I do this season! After all, everyone needs to find the path that works best for themselves!
My husband and I decided not to give big Christmas presents to each other this year. Instead, we repeated last year's fun idea, of making an Advent calendar for one another. I've been preaching about buying less here and now I'm revealing that I have received 24 gifts instead of one? Well, yes. But also, the gifts we give each other in our Advent calendars are not all "things". Instead, we mix up little treats (i. e. chocolates, a special bottle of wine, or that bottle of red I've been meaning to try) with very few "things", that we will get great use out of (i. e. this year I was gifted a new french press, as my old one broke. Other examples include records, that fill our house with beautiful tunes; or books, that we can read and discuss, as well as new gloves for my husband) and the third category - the best really - are little pleasantries like massages, movie nights at home, cooking our favorite meals, taking a nice bath together...you get the message. December really is a month, where we do 24 nice things for each other - or naughty ones for that matter - that sometimes get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday married life. I love it. It has been so much more fulfilling, then boxes full of presents on Christmas day.
The truth is, wether it comes to gifting your husband, or any other friend or family member: if they want something, they usually go out and get it! What a fortunate situation! How grateful am I to say, that our lifestyle leaves very few things to be desired. However, it is also a problem around Christmas time, as it fills up your house with items, you never really wanted in the first place. And now you have to make room for them.
Frustrated and bothered over the fact, that we spend tons of our hard earned money for gifts for the whole family, my father has decided a while back, that he is done with Christmas presents. My sisters and I however, weren't quite ready and so we established a "wichtel" (German for "Secret Santa") system where we draw names and only gift ONE family member and only within a small budget of usually around $50. This has been so much fun! We get very creative with our gifts and really focus on the personality of the person we drew. A few years ago for example, I scored two plane tickets with Ryan Air (cheap European airline) to Dublin for St. Patty's for me and my sister! Still, one of the best trips I have ever taken! These memories will always be dear to me.
Now, that we have little Smilla, we had to think about how we want to approach gifting with her. Again, we immediately agreed - less is more! Growing up, I usually had one gift under the tree that I really wished for and some that were more practical items like PJ's, underwear, etc. I almost remember every single one of my Christmas presents growing up - that's how special each item was to me. For my daughter, I also want, that she is able to feel the same longing for, wishing for, hoping for and then excitement and gratitude over receiving something she truly desired. My wish is, that she, just like me, will spend days, if not weeks, in the living room playing contentedly with her Christmas present. For her first Christmas, she will receive a cardboard box or two to play with. Initially, that was all we had planned to give her. In the past few months though, I have noticed her growing interest in playing in the kitchen while I cook and so she will get her own little cooking corner in the kitchen. We figured it's something, we eventually will have for her, so this is a very special moment to give it to her. Now, a lot of mothers told me, that no matter what we want for our babe, our child will receive way too much anyways, as "you have no choice. Everyone will buy her presents". Well, I do think I have a choice. I openly talked to grandparents and family members to respect our wishes for little to no gifts. And in the case, that she does receive more than expected, I still have the choice to put it away and give it to her over time. Donating things we don't need, is always a good option, too.
When it comes to my friends I took the same route! With some I just agreed not to gift at all, but to go have coffee instead. For my best friends babies (again, we had a talk and agreed on getting something small for the babes instead) I found the most adorable, most practical toy, handmade by a small Etsy shop owner in England. I believe, shopping small and giving money to all the tiny makers and creators out there is a wonderful, tinier way to gifting and a great way to avoid mass consumerism.
In addition, I want to quickly write about my gift wrapping! I am truly put off when I read about how much trash we produce every year under the Christmas tree. A true minimalist would not wrap at all, or buy a gift that doesn't need wrapping, or not even have a gift. However, as with everything - moderation is good! The few presents I have this year, I chose to wrap in brown, recycled paper and decorate with items, everyone typically finds around their house around the Holidays - cinnamon sticks, greenery, some burlap, and even an old doily. Whoever tells you, recycled paper looks boring - you are so wrong! Making my gifts look pretty (simple, but pretty) is a creative way to spend time and definitely more enjoyable than standing in line for in-store gift wrapping!
Tomorrow we will go feed carrots to reindeers. Tuesday night we will play board games with dear friends. My husband still owe's me our annual, pre-christmas, TV night of watching "Love Actually". Once I get off my computer here in a second I will draw us a bath.
All is calm,
all is bright.